The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Big Machine Vodka 400 on Sunday afternoon was high pressure for the bubble drivers around the cutoff line trying to race their way into the playoffs with a win.
Kevin Harvick claimed the pole position in qualifying earlier Sunday morning. He raced out to a commanding lead once field commander waved the green flag. As everyone else was settling in behind him, Daniel Suarez clipped the outside wall bringing out the first caution on lap ten. Everyone elected to pit under the early caution, and it was a crazy sequence of events. Chase Elliott was pushed from behind and spun out into Bubba Wallace. Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Martin Truex Jr. all received damage onto their cars after the incident. Kevin Harvick continued to run out front through into the second half of the stage. With nine laps left in the stage, Landon Cassill had a hard hit into the fence. Many drivers came down pit road, but Joey Logano and Ryan Newman both stayed out. On the restart, another caution came out when Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones raced hard into turn two. Both drivers slid up the track and into the outside wall bring the race to a red flag. This brought stage one to an end with Joey Logano winning under caution.
Kyle Larson held the first place position on the restart, but Kevin Harvick jumped out front and back into the lead. Green flag stops began cycling through with Kevin Harvick coming down pit road on lap 85. During the green flag cycle, Kyle Busch had a mechanical failure and his car went up in smoke on pit road. Kevin Harvick returned to the lead on the restart with four laps to go in the stage. Another caution came out on the restart with debris on the backstretch. Kevin Harvick won stage two, also under caution.
Another wild restart to begin the last stage brought out another caution with Jimmie Johnson spinning in turn two. This ended his day and his hopes at another playoff run. Ryan Blaney took the lead away from Harvick this time on the restart. On lap 128, another caution flag waved when Kyle Larson hit the wall coming off turn two. Kevin Harvick returned to the lead on restart, but another caution came out when Alex Bowman spun around in turn two. The field lined up for another restart when Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano battled side by side down the backstretch. Harvick shut the door on Logano, and this was all he needed. Harvick was able to lead the rest of the race without any issues and win the regular-season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The playoff field is set and the order is as follows: Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, and Ryan Newman. Kyle Busch, the points leader was presented with the regular-season championship trophy.
It will be a very competitive ten-race title run for 16 teams. The points are tight throughout, and what is best about the playoffs is that each round will be raced at unique tracks. The Charlotte Roval is in the first round, Talladega Superspeedway is in the second, and Martinsville Speedway is in the third round. All 16 drivers need to show their skills at every type of track.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs kick off next Sunday night, September 15th under the lights at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This is the first time this race is held under the lights, and it will be quite a show. All 16 teams will look to be aggressive early in the playoffs to snag a win for a quick advance into the next round.